Was your ancestor poor?

If so the Society of Genealogists’ family history library may contain records relating to their life.

One particularly useful type of record for tracing poorer ancestors is the Settlement Examination. Under the laws of settlement which were introduced by the Poor Law Act of 1601, people were only entitled to claim poor relief in their legal place of settlement (ie. The parish where they had been living for at least one month).

After the Settlement Act of 1662, people could obtain a settlement in any parish through marriage, apprenticeship, domestic service for over a year or by occupying property worth more than £10 per annum. Anyone not fulfilling these criteria was liable to be removed to their original parish.

After 1697, poorer people had to carry a settlement certificate with them to show that their parish of legal settlement would take them back if necessary. If they requested poor relief, the parish they had moved to would examine them to see where their legal right of settlement lay. The resulting settlement examination books are a rich source for researchers.

The entries might include details of a person’s birthplace and working career as well as the names and ages of dependent children. They may also include details of their recent whereabouts and other incidental detail about their life.

Recently a name index to the Settlement examination books for 1708-1750 for St Martin in the Fields, a large parish in Westminster, has been added to the Members’ Area of the Society of Genealogists website. These books have been indexed by a group of dedicated volunteers at the Westminster Archives Centre, and Society of Genealogists’ volunteers have helped with the project by typing up some of the index cards.

Search the index for 1708-1731 or 1732-1750. If you find an entry relating to your ancestor you can order a photocopy of the original from Westminster Archives for £4.00 by clicking here (quoting full reference)

The Society is most grateful to Westminster Archives for permission to include this index on the Members’ Area.

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